It’s a tangled, twisting tale Maja Godlewska tells in the paintings of her exhibition at Rockhurst University’s Greenlease Gallery. Punctuated with bursts of tropical heat and eruptions of fire, water, and plant life, it’s a story that banishes the wintry blasts outside.
Come in from the cold and let these abstract representations of landscapes strange and wild engulf you. Suffer the concussions of bold strokes of vibrant greens, blazing reds, and hallucinatory blues on the large-scale wall panels. Pick your way through the five-foot-tall paper rolls that sprawl across the floor space. Some have names that speak for themselves, like “Rainshadow” and “Terrain,” while others invite speculation: “Eureka” and “Moka: The Night.”
Godlewska is a fabulist. As the show’s title suggests, “On the Basis of Encounters” confronts us with these hothouse narratives. Look closely at many of these images and you’ll see a tiny female figure poised on the edge of the dense thickets and brambles. She is myself, says Godlewska; she is all of us; she is both traveler and tourist, consuming and consumed by landscapes.
“I saw this woman during one of my travels through our National Parks,” Godlewska explained. “One moment she was there, entering the forest, the next she was gone, swallowed up by the jungle. That is the story I want to tell, about how we relate to Nature. We can distance ourselves from Nature by taking photographs, but we need also to open ourselves up to a direct participation in it. It’s all a spectacle of global tourism.”
Thus, in our own “tour” of the exhibition we at first stand back from the paintings as observers of the “global” view, but then we rush forward to immerse ourselves in the kaleidoscopic layerings and rhythms of the three-dimensional surfaces of impasto globs and striated passages of oils, acrylic, and wax.
Godlewska observed, in a thundering understatement: “I think at some level, after all, paintings are all about paint.”
Polish-born and internationally acclaimed, Godlewska is an associate professor of painting at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Her exhibit has been three years in the making. She met Greenlease Gallery curator Anne Pearce several years ago as part of an artist-in-residence program. “We connected very quickly,” Godlewska said, “because we are both artists and we decided that I would come here to work on a project in the future. She has been very generous to have me here at the Greenlease Gallery, and I wanted her to have a final say in the organization of the space.”
Godlewska cites as an important, albeit unlikely, painterly influence on her work the splendidly sprawling church frescoes of the great 18th-century Italian Rococo painter, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. She explained that Tiepolo’s wild and dizzying super-abundance of mythological figures, plants, and architectural forms are landscapes of a kind that have overwhelmed her just as they continue to intoxicate church worshipers then and now.
“Maya Godlewska: On the Basis of Encounters” continues at the Greenlease Gallery at Rockhurst University, 1100 Rockhurst Rd., through Dec. 8. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and by appointment. For more information, 816.501.4407 or ww2.rockhurst.edu/center-arts-letters/greenlease-gallery.